Folks are noticing Executive chef Michael Chang's brand of healthy Korean comfort food?so much so that in 2013, Pasadena Weekly readers voted Osek Korean Restaurant the spot with the best Korean food in the city. But he's not just concerned about flavors and textures: color is important for Michael, who makes sure each dish includes the five hues traditionally associated with various organs of the body. He layers kimchi, ham, and fried eggs, stirs dumplings into spicy broths, and braises ribs until they're fall-off-the-bone tender. All of the dishes can be customized to spice preference, and the sunlit dining room with a casual atmosphere adds to the experience.
Grills sizzle in the center of the tables at Young Dong Garden. At this traditional Korean barbecue, diners sear slices of USDA prime beef atop these grills, some lightly seasoned or marinated in the house's soy-based barbecue sauce. The scent of grilled short ribs, pork belly, or tiger prawns activates taste buds, while accompanying small plates containing sides such as kimchi add an extra kick. Kitchen entrees such as bibimbop and noodles dishes are no less satisfying or less desirable to sacrifice in a food sculpture.
At Hae Jang Chon, the dolgooi, a traditional stone grill, is literally at the center of every meal. The circular stones sit in the middle of each table, two-inch-thick slabs that heat up as diners peruse the menu of meats. Most patrons order the all-you-can-eat buffet, for which parties of two or more can choose up to four meats for each round. Servers bring the raw morsels tableside, and arrange them on the grill to a growing chorus of sizzles. Diners look on as cuts of Black Angus beef brisket, baby octopus, squid, and beef bulgogi quickly brown, then pluck them from the slab with chopsticks, pile them on kimchi pancakes and steamed rice, and adorn them with pickled veggies and spicy sauces from a bounty of traditional garnishes. The drink list keeps with the Korean spirit, and includes herbal rice wine, Korean vodka, and pints of Hite.
Haus Dessert Boutique’s owner, Chris Kim, earned himself the bold moniker "Coffee Hunter" by introducing his award-winning Hawaiian coffee beans to his home country of Korea. The nickname reflects Kim’s commitment to coffee, which also comes through at his Korean-themed café, where lattes come topped with artistic foam featuring hearts, leafs, and detailed sipping instructions. In addition to premium, hand-dripped coffee, Haus Dessert Boutique also offers a range of organic tea, in exotic blends such as green tea latte, lychee oolong, and jasmine. Diners can also opt to cool off with an iced tea or smoothie.
A range of handmade desserts provide a sweet pairing to the myriad beverages. The menu's European and Asian influence is easy to see in dishes such as the crème brulee, tiramisu, and a variety of cheesecakes.
It almost seems a shame to eat the sushi rolls and sashimi at Tomo Sushi?at least until you take the first bite. The dishes look like works of art, with colorful avocado, crunchy exteriors, and the ever-present rice surrounding yellowtail, blue fin tuna, and other fresh fish. Those creations account for a portion of Tomo Sushi's "cool" menu, which also treats diners to oysters on the half shell and lemon-cured salmon. On the hot side of things, chefs deep-fry jalapeno poppers and soft-shell crab, also known as the jalapenos of the ocean. Drinks, such as imported Japanese sake and beer, compliment these eye- and tongue-grabbing meals, while desserts, such as green tea and vanilla ice cream, conclude them on an equally delicious note.
There’s barely a plate in sight at Chego, where the menu revolves around made-to-order bowls. Starting with a simple bed of rice, chefs pile on toppings such as fried eggs, pork belly, wok-seared water spinach, and tofu fried with chili and garlic; they can also prepare custom combinations that are vegetarian and gluten-free. If you don’t want to take your chances, head to the permanent storefront on Overland Avenue. There’s also a food truck that’s always on the move, stopping only to dole out bowls and refill its engine with energy-packed rice grains.